Psychological theories and lay accounts of occupational choice : a comparative study of mechanical engineering and nursing undergraduates.
Psychological investigation of occupational choice has
traditionally followed one of two dominant approaches. The
structural (or 'personality-matching') approach (e.g., Holland,
1985) has used pysychometric testing to predict occupational choice
on the basis of personality assessments whilst the process (or
'developmental') approach (e.g., Ginzberg et al., 1951) has mainly
used interview responses to identify stages in the maturation of
vocational thinking culminating 'realistic' decision-~aking.
The aim of this study was to test the utility of these
approaches in undertaking a detailed analysis of interview data.
Garfinkel's (1967) proposal that decisions can be viewed as the
retrospective construction of 'sense-able' accounts provided a
useful perspective on collected interview responses. A discourse
analysis approach was adopted in which the functional nature of
language, as achieving interactive purposes, was stressed (Potter
and Wetherell, 1987). Finally, use was made of the conversation
analytic focus on turn-taking in order to examine the
interdependent nature of the question-and-answer turns of the
interviews (e.g., Sacks, 1972).
Forty undergraduate students following the BSc courses in
mechanical engineering and nursing at Dundee Institute of
Technology were interviewed. The sample consisted of twenty
students from each course, ten from the first year and ten from the
final year. Comparisons were made between the two vocational
groups and between first and final year students. A preliminary
examination of course selection interviews was also undertaken.
The data could not be categorized in accordance with Holland's
'personality patterns' for mechanical engineering and nursing, nor
in terms of Ginzberg's 'realistic stage' of vocational thinking,
due to categorization conflicts and within-interview response
variability. The apparent contradictions and complexities
generated by categorizing responses in these terms were clarified
when accounts were analyzed as ongoing constructions of
'sense-able' choices within which 'personality-expressive' and
'developmental-stage' talk served specific conversational
The findings call into question methods of careers guidance
based on these theories and it is argued that attention should be
directed at career-selection preparation. However, it should be
noted that a focus on the conversational skills required to succeed
in selection interviews could challenge faith in a meritocratic